Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Narrative Therapy on a Friday Night

I've been doing a bunch of reading for my doctoral program this week, with a particular focus on coursework in couples and family counseling.  The prof for the the class is apparently big into "narrative therapy," a counseling approach that understands the self/soul/psyche in terms of storytelling.  That's been the last two books I've read, and they both spin out the same basic concept.

Meaning, we understand ourselves as having a story, and the plot lines within that story…and our reactions to them…define us as beings.  As a therapeutic approach, it does start wandering onto some peculiar ground, particularly as it deals with the things that mess us up.  It focuses on "externalizing" damaging self-narratives, meaning you name a problem, view it as not really a part of your core self, and from that position refuse to let it govern your existence.

Which makes it a teeny bit like demonology, a connection that is not lost on the progressive folks writing the books.  "I know this sounds like we're talking about demons…" isn't one of those sentence-openings Presbyterians are generally comfortable with.

But then again, it also sounds like deleting bad code or editing a manual of operations, so I guess there's  a comfortable "way to frame" this particular approach to things for Presbyterians.

I've been playing around with the concepts underlying narrative therapy myself, getting a feel for whether they have any validity.  My rule of thumb is pretty simple: Does it work?

When applied to my own being, does it seem to have purchase, or is it only so much fluff and jargon?

The answer, so far, has been a qualified yes.  It actually kinda sorta has.

Take, for example, my reaction to the romantic Friday evening activity my wife and I engaged in last night.  We spent the evening timing my older son's swim meet.  As we will pretty much every Friday night for the next month or so.

There is typically a large portion of my processing capacity that has beef with this, most having to do with change.  Friday nights used to be time for the wife and I to be together, back when we were dating and early in our marriage.  Then, those evenings were time for all of us together.  They were always family time, as we'd settle in for a movie and popcorn in our basement nest.  Friday nights were also shabbas mealtime, which was a non-trivial thing for a Christian helping raise Jewish children.  It's hard to lose those things, both the cozy and the sacred, particularly the scurry and the shuffle of sports and busyness.

So Resentment comes easily at the beginning of seasons, as it grumbles and mutters at all the racka-frackin' activities parents inflict on themselves and their children.

But there's no point in that.  Because the kid who's growing into manhood does not swim because we're inflicting an activity on him from the heart of our competitive American parent-anxiety.  He swims because he really likes it.  And I'd be at those meets anyway, because he's my son, and I enjoy rooting him on.  Why not participate?  Wouldn't I just do what I'm doing?

I used some narrative therapy techniques last night, when I found myself drifting into season-start growly-ness.  It didn't take much, just a few gentle re-framings.  And danged if I didn't find myself feeling much more centered, and actually kind of enjoying myself.

Perhaps it's overly 'Murikan of me, but I do have an appreciation for practicality.